The story is: before the hurricane hype started spinning to a frenzy, Johnny was mixing his beloved martini one night and said, "Let's talk about the hurricane. If it becomes a category three or higher headed our way we are leaving." And so we left at 3:00 am last Thursday morning thinking we could outsmart the reported traffic. We took a few back roads smooth sailing 'til 290 then we sat in traffic I never dreamt possible. I sat in the black of night looking at glittering red tail lights strung out for miles wrapped around the road like a stubborn snake. Our story from there is as boring as the traffic so I will spare you. However, in the midst of boredom there were definitive moments of grace:

1. Sweet Eugene's House of Java in College Station, TX. (1702 Kyle St. S.) Our chosen back roads just happened to include a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso (Johnny) and a large Italian roast (me) as we evacuated, and a cappuccino with an extra shot of esspresso (Johnny) and a green tea latte (me) on the way back to Houston. We also tried their panini sandwiches on our journey to Houston and man, do they offer good eats! If you are ever in College Station or passing through you should drop by Eugene's. Their interior vibe is cozy and artsy (as a coffee shop should be).

2. Our eventual arrival in Plano. We stayed at my parents' lovely house which is within walking distance from a lake and a golf course. Harley the cat got along famously with Kujeaux the dog since they are both petite. They chased each other 'round the house in friendly-hyper mannerisms. We discovered that Harley instigated these chases more often than Kujeaux. Sadly, Jake the larger dog was misunderstood. He chased Harley, too, but nearly gave our cat a heart attack because Jake is a beautiful, big, boisterous, black dog.

3. Fat Straws in Plano which is a regular stop for the Simmons when visiting my parents. Johnny loathes bubble tea, more specifically he loathes the tapioca bubbles, so he orders their Vietnamese coffee. I usually order jasmine green tea with bubbles and it is tasty. We were able to visit Fat Straws twice during this forced vacation which made me happy. We also consumed damn good food such as Abeulo's in Lewisville with my uncle Bobby: their chile rellenos and sangria-swirl margaritas are to die for. My uncle swears by their sangria and Johnny imbibed a mojito. My parents stuck with water and Diet Coke but if you know Kitty Ann (my Mom) you also know she doesn't need alcohol to have a little spunk. The other food I must mention was The California Pizza Kitchen's goat cheese, roasted peppers, and Japanese eggplant pizza on a honey wheat crust. My sweet Lord.

4. Time to think on the road. I had a routine of turning on the radio for the latest Rita news, calling Johnny on my cell phone (he was driving in front of me), and listening to CDs. As we escaped the parking-lot formerly-known-as-290 early that first morning, I excitedly realized our drive was bound straight for a sunrise! I am not a morning person thus it takes an evacuation for me to view a sunrise. We were driving beside the Texan countryside as I listened to Emmylou Harris' Spyboy CD which I find quite worshipful. Then, as we drove home on Sunday I turned giddy as I realized we would drive through my beloved dusk AND a sunset. We were caught in traffic again but I did not allow the car-snot congestion to cause me despair. I put in Gillian Welch's Hell Among the Yearlings CD but after a few songs I could hear persistent crickets singing among the trees and fields. So I turned down Gillian, rolled down my window, inhaled the sweet-warm air and listened to nature's version of The Bulgarian Women's Choir. I even window-shopped on the quaint main street in Calvert, TX - I love old, small towns.

Often during this escape-turned-vacation I thought of the things we carried. Our choices remind me of the age-old question: If your home caught fire, which items would you grab as you ran out the door? Thank God we had a whole day to think upon our belongings and not a matter of minutes among flames. Things are things but God has provided for us generously so we pondered our decisions carefully: wedding pictures and all of our framed wedding memorabilia, family photo albums, a silver family Bible my Mom bestowed to us, Johnny's best drums, a Nativity icon my parents gave to Johnny for Christmas 2004, Johnny's Crusader cross, Mr. Simmons' folded American flag from his funeral, a few of my books, our financial records, our eMac and my iBook, a painting by my brother, a Chagall replica by Kierstin, our books of CDs and DVDs (mainly for use on the road), and the like. And of course we brought clothes, toiletries, snacks, and other essentials; Johnny drove his Element and I followed in the Monte Carlo. We entrusted the remainder of our home to God and He showered His mercy on us instead of Rita. We arrived in Houston late Sunday night to an untouched home with electricity! My Camry was safe in the parking lot. All of our friends were protected as well as their homes. Johnny and I are grateful for a combined total of 18 hours on the road vs. 48 and finding gasoline even if we had to pay for premium vs. regular. We know good and well it was not our snazzy planning. God's hand guided us each creeping moment of traffic.

The Lord spared an undeserving Houston. Even when Rita hit land she was not as traumatic as predicted nor were there mass quantities of life lost. Perhaps the devastation in East Texas and Louisiana does not seem lenient but God's thoughts are not our thougths nor His ways our ways. His mercy was quite evident within Rita.

Thanks be to God.

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